How to Help Your Loved One Who is Struggling With Addiction
So many of us can say that we know someone who is struggling with or has struggled in the past with an addiction. We see it in the news, on social media, and in our own communities. Addiction does not discriminate. It does not care if you are successful, or if you have a wonderful family. What we don’t talk about enough is how friends and family can help and support a loved one through their addiction.
Here are some ways to help your loved one who is struggling with addiction:
Educate yourself about addiction.
One of the most important things you can do is to educate yourself. Often times we try to help the people that we love without first trying to get a better understanding of what they are going through. If you have never struggled with an addiction, then you won’t know exactly how your loved one feels, but you can take the time to better understand your loved one’s disease and how it is affecting them.
There are many support groups available to family members of addicts including Al-Anon (support for family and friends of alcoholics), Nar-Anon (support for family and friends of those who are affected by someone’s addiction), and PAL (Parents of Addicted Loved Ones). These groups will help to provide education on the disease as well as support, encouragement, and understanding. You will find that it is easier to be supportive and to be there for your loved one if you have a better understanding of their addiction and how it is affecting them physically, mentally and emotionally.
Know your boundaries.
When dealing with a loved one who is struggling with addiction, it is important to have boundaries to keep yourself safe and to know which lines you will not cross. Some examples of boundaries are: not allowing drugs in the house, not giving your loved one money, not picking them up when they are high, and not always being there to bail them out when they get into a bad situation. The most important part of setting boundaries is ensuring that you follow through with them no matter how hard it is and how much it hurts. Part of setting healthy boundaries also means knowing when it is time for you to take a step back and take care of yourself. You cannot be a support for someone else unless you are taking care of your own mental health.
Avoid lecturing and threatening.
When speaking with your loved one about their addiction, it is important to avoid lecturing, shaming, and threatening. Most individuals who are struggling with addiction know that what they are doing is wrong. However, saying things like “just stop using” or “if you were strong, you would be able to stop” is most likely not going to help. Addiction is not about being weak and it is not about will-power. If it was that simple, we wouldn’t be dealing with a drug crisis. The process of getting your loved one to stop using often takes time and requires them make the decision that they are ready to get clean on their own. It is ok to encourage, ask questions, and have open conversations with them as long as they are willing to engage. As someone who has worked in the field of addiction for many years, I always tell family members that treatment will not work unless the addicted person is truly ready to get clean for themselves.
Stop making excuses for their behaviors.
It is not necessary for you to pretend that their addictive behaviors are not real or that they are not happening. If you constantly take responsibility for their actions or try to cover them up, then your loved one is never going to have consequences. If your loved one always has someone covering for them or bailing them out of troubling situations, then they are never going to be forced to accept the things that happen as a result of their addiction. Excuses are a form of enabling and are only going to keep your loved one sick.
Encourage them to get help.
It is important to encourage your loved one to get help while also recognizing that you cannot force them into recovery. As mentioned previously, someone struggling with an addiction needs to be ready to accept the help you are offering or else treatment is not going to work. It is okay for you to research treatment facilities and provide your loved one with brochures and information, but try not to make them feel guilty or ashamed in the process. You will most likely be met with a lot of denial or resistance, but that doesn’t mean that you should give up on them. Make sure that you have your boundaries in place and continue to encourage and support your loved one as much as you can and for as long as it is healthy for you to do so.
Know when you need help.
Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for help for you. In order to be there for your loved one, it is important for you to make sure that you are physically, mentally and emotionally healthy. Just as it will be important for your loved one to seek therapy, it may also be important for you to seek therapy to work through the thoughts, feelings, and emotions that you may have experienced during your loved one’s addiction.